Inclusive education: Pakistan can learn from BRAC Bangladesh experience When I landed at Dhaka Airport last month, I was struck by so many similarities between Pakistan and Bangladesh that I turned to Google map to confirm my current location. With so many similarities, there are some contrasting differences too. Pakistan and Bangladesh are a natural pair for long-run comparison. The two countries share a common colonial history, share pre-independence period and started off with a largely similar nature of political activities. Berkeley’s Brad Delong provides a range of such historical comparisons: North vs South Korea, China vs Taiwan (until the 80s), Cambodia vs Thailand, Georgia vs Turkey, Cuba vs Mexico, and so on. Each pair of countries had similar “initial conditions” and yet something clicked in one country but not the other. The result was that within a few decades, the successful high-growth country was on average eight times richer and educated than its twin counterpart!
Nobody can deny the fact that for over a decade, Bangladesh’s economy has been doing very well. Many believe that this economic turnover happens because of the strong academic foundation. In comparison, education in Pakistan is having severe difficulties; largely due to government’s priority and partly because of the law and order situation. In my opinion, Pakistan could be well served by taking a few pages out of Bangladesh’s education management playbook.
According to statistics, Bangladesh has higher literacy rate (61.5%) than Pakistan (56.4%). When it comes to girl’s education, Pakistan lags behind Bangladesh with percentage difference of 16. This difference in girl’s education is the reason of disparity in women’s participation in the work force. In Bangladesh women participation in the workforce is 57.6% and in Pakistan it’s 24.8%.
During my visit to BRAC Centre and studying the primary education model of BRAC in Bangladesh, I was convinced that traditional education model, practicing in Pakistan, is redundant and cannot support the fast paced dynamic academic environment of the world. There is a dire need to assess the relationship between the government and private actors in providing primary education in Pakistan, and how it shape and define education options and opportunities for poor and marginalized communities.
Pakistan needs to explore more innovative ways to manage and fund primary schools. New parameters and strictures for quality primary education system should be defined. The question needs to be answered that how can we begin to understand the social justice implications of the available education options, their quality, and accessibility through a human capabilities approach.
In Bangladesh, BRAC informal community based primary school system is successfully targeting marginalized, poor and at risk communities, and proving that delivery of quality education is possible without heavy infrastructural investments. BRAC schools’ success and their desirability of local parents is due to numerous factors, including small classrooms, learner-centered teaching methods, supplemental curriculum and teaching materials, flexible scheduling responsive to local needs, and a cadre of local teachers that are supported and held accountable by their community and the BRAC branch and regional offices.
Education reform is not a matter of building schools from scratch, but of transforming longstanding practices. Education reform in Pakistan is, therefore, a process of learning, in which academics can seek help from BRAC Pakistan. Individuals learn best when they engage as a community and with other communities, take charge of their own learning, build on what they know, engage in continual self-assessment, and control their own resources. Meaningful reform can only be accomplished by those whose practices are being transformed—the community of learners and students, who constitute the institution. Community engagement is a vital part of a truly successful school. But it rarely just happens, it must be intentionally designed. When it is present, we should take the time to celebrate it and learn from it.
Faizan Afzal is a freelance journalist and a social worker. Tweet him at @Faizan_Afzal1